Hartke Wants to Follow in Dad’s Path

Posted June 18, 2008 at 5:50pm

One obituary for Sen. Vance Hartke (D-Ind.), who died in 2003, noted that the liberal legislator developed a bit of a reputation for being a lucky candidate, or at least one who had good timing.

After serving just two years as the mayor Evansville, Ind., Hartke was elected to the Senate in the Democratic landslide year of 1958. He went on to win re-election in 1964, another unusually strong Democratic year in which President Lyndon Johnson won all but six states.

Even after publicly breaking with Johnson over the war in Vietnam, Hartke still pulled out a third victory in 1970, albeit by just a few thousand votes.

More than three decades later, Hartke’s daughter, Anita Hartke, is hoping that her father’s flair for good timing is a trait that runs in the family.

Hartke has secured the right to challenge Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) in November, but even some Democrats on Capitol Hill privately concede that the younger Hartke doesn’t have much of a chance against a four-term Congressman who is not only a rising star in GOP leadership circles but also a powerful fundraiser.

Yet Anita Hartke, who was born at Georgetown University Hospital, raised just outside Washington, D.C., and moved to the 7th district after her father’s death, believes that the time is ripe for her to follow in her father’s footsteps.

In an interview on Wednesday, Hartke said that she’s counting on another landslide Democratic year to carry her to an upset victory, and she said that she’s planning on winning over voters with her message of peace.

With the continued waste and destruction that has come from the war in Iraq, Hartke said the fight for peace has become as relevant today as it was in the darkest days of Vietnam, when her father believed so strongly in the peace movement that he briefly sought the Democratic presidential nomination in 1972 on a platform that called for a complete removal of troops from Southeast Asia.

Hartke said she began to develop her own desire to serve while watching her father fight against that war.

Today, Vance Hartke’s influence on the peace movement is still well-remembered in Washington.

Earlier this month, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) took to the Senate floor to pay tribute to the late Senator on the day ground was broken on the new U.S. Institute of Peace. That project was born from a bill Hartke co-sponsored that sought to establish a “peace academy” in Washington, D.C.

“Vance’s passing hit me like a punch to the gut,” Kerry said in his floor speech, “and brought back memories of my earliest years as an anti-war activist, and of a public servant who shared our cause and our concerns. Then and throughout his life, Vance was compelling in the absolute sincerity of his character. He was spurred to soul-searching by America’s disastrous intervention in Vietnam. He found himself asking, as many now ask of Iraq, not just ‘How do we end this war?’ but ‘How do we learn from our mistakes and end the mindset that got us into war?’”

These days, Anita Hartke said, peace has become “a nonpartisan issue.”

“Our country is struggling. The war- mongers have thrown us pretty much into bankruptcy,” she said.

Meanwhile, Cantor has been “a water boy” for President Bush and has helped “drive our economy into a ditch,” she said.

Hartke said her jump into a political race from her career as a real estate broker wasn’t something that had been in the works for years. Rather, the 48-year-old divorced mother of three said she only recently decided that her lifelong calling to serve would take her back to Capitol Hill.

After taking over as chairwoman of the Culpeper County Democratic Committee in January, Anita Hartke said that local party officials and politically active friends in both parties encouraged her to file for the seat. She said her enthusiasm for the job grew quickly as she met with state party officials and national leaders such as Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean.

Hartke said she plans to campaign alongside Democratic Senate candidate Mark Warner, whose high statewide popularity is certain to bode well for Democrats up and down the ballot. She also has other family members who can help her as she learns her way around a Congressional campaign. Most recently, her cousin Bryan Hartke (D) lost a 2002 House campaign in Indiana to then-Rep. John Hostettler (R).

But knocking off Cantor will still be a very tall order.

The Chief Deputy Minority Whip is a native of Richmond, where the vast majority of the district population lives, and a staunch conservative who has regularly outperformed Bush in the safely Republican district. The four-term Congressman has earned more than two-thirds of the vote in every contest except 2006, when he took 64 percent.

A late May Federal Election Commission report showed that even after distributing much of the $2.6 million he’s raised this cycle to Republican allies, Cantor still had $772,000 in cash on hand.

Hartke is hovering around $15,000.

National Republican Congressional Committee spokeswoman Julie Shutley said Wednesday that “Cantor’s record for Virginia’s 7th district is second-to-none. Anyone who believes this seat is in play is misguided.”

But Hartke isn’t intimidated.

“Eric Cantor has the money. I have the people,” she said. “As my father said, ‘For in the end, it is the dreamer who is the greatest realist.’”